“For Life” adapts the real-life story of its executive producer Isaac Wright Jr., who was serving a life sentence for a wrongful conviction, but became a lawyer and got himself exonerated in the process. Hank Steinberg created the legal drama for ABC, with the character of Aaron Wallace played by Nicholas Pinnock as surrogate for Wright. “Isaac was arrested back in the late 80s and in prison in the 90s, so it’s 25/30 years later and we’re updating his story in a number of ways,” Steinberg explains in an exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch the video above).
“The experiences that Aaron has in prison are loosely inspired by some of the things that happened to Isaac, but he was never involved in a big prison riot with 50 Cent,” Steinberg laughs as he references the fellow executive producer who got the rights to Wright’s story and later recurred in the first season as a fellow inmate. Despite the influence of the Grammy winner he adds, “We changed Aaron’s profession. He’s a nightclub owner instead; Isaac was a music producer.”
Steinberg kick-started his career with his Emmy-nominated script for the 2001 movie “61*” for HBO. The next year, he made his series-writing debut by creating “Without a Trace,” on which he served as showrunner, executive producer, head writer and occasional director. The drama ran for seven years on CBS and ranked among the ten most watched shows on television in its middle years. Steinberg more recently filled the same hyphenate positions for “The Last Ship” on TNT for five seasons, so “For Life” on ABC represents a return for him to the commercial broadcast networks, which have seldom yielded an awards player like “Without a Trace” in recent years.
“We all saw that there was a possibility here to do a show that pushed the boundaries of network television that had a very accessible hero-underdog, who was incredibly likable,” Steinberg explains. He adds, “I like the idea of bringing it to a larger audience and also bringing the important issue of criminal justice reform and prison reform to a larger audience and not a niche audience on a smaller outlet.” The veteran showrunner eyes his second Emmy nomination for screenwriting and first in Best Drama Writing with the “For Life” pilot, which is the show’s sole submission in the category.
“For Life” awaits renewal, but this head writer is “feeling really good about season two” and clarifies that Indira Varma‘s character Safiya Masry would still “be integrally involved” as she was in the finale that was both written and directed by Steinberg, despite no longer being Aaron’s warden. He teases about Aaron, “He’s going to continue to go after the corruption in the system and I’m looking forward to him reuniting with his family.”
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